God immediately brings us from the cosmic story to the microcosmic story. We are the reflectors of the macrocosm. The subtle implication, the inner meaning of the verse, is that this self must contain all the double elements that were mentioned in the preceding verses. Its arrangement is fithrah, innate, preprogrammed subgenetically form within. That preprogramming develops through stages and time in a contiguous fashion. The root meaning for innate (fitrah) is ‘to crack’. The child breaks into this world with a cry of despair at being dislodged from the aqueous, contented, mild situation of the preceding nine months, where it knew only the mind of the mother’s heart. Suddenly the child is ejected into a gaseous environment and disconnected from that umbilical situation. Immediately the programmed unfoldment of the self begins. The child is born wanting to connect. The first connection is physical. The first worship is to maintain the body — that is the temple that the child knows innately, and the mother’s breast is the object which fulfils that need. In time, if one grows in consciousness, one recognizes that the breast is the earth from which we take our physical sustenance.
And by the self and Him who made it perfect. (91:7)
implies that the self has within itself perfection and completeness of the inner and outer, a combination of visible and invisible realities.
Then God says:
Then He inspired it to understand immorality and piety. (91:8)
He who is pious is aware at times that he is hanging between these two opposites and that at any moment he may slip. Thus he wants to be in such a wakeful state that his inner and outer are completely connected, otherwise he knows he will slip into the abyss, the abyss of suspicion, doubt, inner hatred, or any of the other abysses that we can inwardly suffer from. It could even be the abyss of outer misbehavior, such as falling asleep behind the wheel of a car for ten seconds in traffic! Piety (taqwa) is that perpetual, spontaneous, continuous and natural awareness. The word does not have a dualistic sense. Immorality or decadence, the opposite of piety, takes one far away from reality. Yet how can we know nearness unless we know what is far? There must be recognition of what is far so that we may then, by our own will, seek nearness. Man can sink to a level of decadence and degeneration lower than any other created thing. And yet the Qur`an tells us that the Angels prostrated themselves to the Adamic consciousness.
These Angelic powers or energies are fully programmed in their own channels but we are unable to penetrate them. It is another world to that which we cannot gain full access for our own sake. Think of our own physical world. If we had eyesight good enough to observe all the creational activity going on around us, we would not be able to place things in the middle perspective. Likewise, if we could receive all the other invisible signals that are going on, angelic or otherwise, call them Angels, radar or infra-red or whatever, untestable, unmeasurable, unseeable, untouchable energy waves so to speak — if we were sensitive to all those energy bundles or waves — we would be so encumbered that, in all probability, we would lose our sanity. Right now, around us, there are millions of waves going back and forth. Fortunately, we have been endowed with selective perception and our horizon is limited. Within this limited horizon we can subjectively test and realize the unlimited horizon that contains it.
So, on the one hand, we have immorality and decadence and on the other, piety and complete awareness. The choice is ours. We make that choice according to the degree of our desire for knowledge. The successful one is he who purifies himself.
He will indeed be successful who makes it grow in purity. (91:9)
The verbal root of the word for ‘succeed’ is ‘to plough, till, or cultivate’. Success then implies turning over the soil of the self so that it is aerated and soft and then becomes conducive for the growth of success.
The same is true of the heart. The root of ‘heart’ in Arabic is qalb. The verb qalaba means ‘to turn’. If the heart is attached to a specific thing then that is the limit of cognizance. If the heart turns, however, then it can select what is most appropriate.
Another meaning for the Arabic word which means ‘to purify’ is ‘to increase’. If the impurities of a substance are removed, substance actually increases, not in quantity but in quality. Also, a derived noun, zakah, means charity. Purification of the self is a consequence of giving away and leads to increase. Allah prescribes for us precisely through the example of His Prophet that of the great beings who followed him, so that we may know even in the most vulgar circumstances, how to give justly. Within this system nobody is overlooked.
Those who completely and utterly know in themselves that they have no right to own anything in this world, and are at best the guardians of a few things for a short while, are accommodated. Those who think they will take their few possessions to the grave must also be accommodated. All are God’s creation.
Regarding the purity of the self and the inner and outer, we can never know anyone’s heart. No one has the right to do so. The prime example is from the Battle of Badr, when the Muslims were being attacked, and someone was under Zayd’s sword. As he was about to slay the man with his sword, the man shouted out “There is no god but God.” Zayd then killed him. The blessed Prophet told Zayd: “You have killed a Muslim.” Zayd said: “He was a liar.” The Prophet answered: “And do you know what was in his heart?”
We can only judge one another by our outer behavior. We cannot question another’s intentions, only his actions. If we purify the outer and continue, eventually we will end up connected with the inner. This will save us a lot of dissipated energy. If one knows what one wants and is sincere about it, one is happy and pure without expectations. If one’s intention is free from arrogance or any other lower tendency, then most of one’s energy is preserved. Clarity, efficiency and success are the promised results.
And he will certainly fail who buries it. (91:10)
We must not conceal the truth that within us lies the potentiality of the best and the worst. Within us lies arrogance, fearfulness, forgetfulness, and selfishness, and also generosity, patience and sacrifice.
Now the surah shows us how, on an individual level, if we do not awaken and rise inwardly towards unity, we will be destroyed even as nations are destroyed. So the Qur`an gives us the example in the next verses:
The people of Thamud denied the truth by their unrestrained actions, when the most unfortunate of them broke forth with mischief. (91:11-12)
God calls our attention to the people of Thamud, a great nation, and a great civilization. They followed the worst amongst them, those who were most arrogant. God says in the Qur`an that when the time has come for a town, village or culture to be destroyed, the most arrogant and villainous amongst them will become their leaders. The truth will then prevail against them and they will be destroyed.
So the Messenger of God said to them: This is God’s she-camel, so give her drink. (91:13)
God says: No people, no civilization, no culture will be destroyed without first being warned as to the purpose of their existence so that they may live honorably, nobly and fully, manufacturing in this life the key to the Garden. If they struggle outwardly to do their best, inwardly they will be totally content. Outwardly, they will never be content because there is always something to be done. One of the main names of God is Rabb. Rabb is He who raises or brings up fully. The people of Thamud were interested in earth-shattering, miraculous events, so they asked the prophet Salih, who said: “I will ask God to aid me with a miracle, but then you must abide by the rules.” They consented, so a she-camel appeared from the rocks. The prophet Salih told them: “There are certain rules regarding this she-camel. One day she is to drink water and the next day you may drink. And you must not molest her, otherwise, you will be destroyed.” The people were shocked by this event.
Many of the prophets coupled their natural, simple messages to humankind with a miracle in order to attract the attention of those people who were not yet as sophisticated intellectually as we are today. They needed a jolt. In the case of the Seal of the Prophets, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), humankind had reached a point in development where there was no need for that outer jolt. The pronouncement of truth itself was the greatest of all miracles.